Global Warming May Not be the Best Card to Play

sustainability cards

In the beginning of the millennium when environmental proponents were deciding how to gain support and spread a message they turned to sustainability and efficiency. We do not have to look far to see their success. The green movement caught on and spread through buildings, company policy and consumer products. Recently the environmental lobby has shifted to focus more on global warming, believing it to be their ace-in-the-hole, but the tactic may be making them more enemies than friends. Those trying to add depth to the ranks of the environmental advocacy and speed up action may want to rethink how they are playing their hand.

Advocates of global warming continue to ramp up their efforts to try and shift cultural and economic norms. Their message comes with increasing levels of severity and apocalyptic predictions culminating to the latest meeting of Climate Scientists in Copenhagen that foretold of a worst-case scenario of carbon dioxide levels that could threaten humanity’s existence by the year 2100. This kind of news is distressing to some of us, but to a large portion of Americans it is simply tiresome. The recent Gallup poll shows that many conservatives have gotten more impatient with global warming claims, ultimately dismissing them as a liberal plot for allocating government funds and more regulation. They stand more than willing to call what they deem is the environmental bluff of a warming planet.

People are listening.

Naturally this only frustrates those who believe they are warning us of our self-perpetuating misfortune. More research only makes the calls for action louder which only makes the non-believers that much more skeptical. Soon it will not matter whether or not global warming is real or if our situation is dire. Opponents will believe they have won and go somewhere else to hash through war, terrorism or trade deficits. By then there will be so many lines drawn that bringing people back to the table will be a feat in and of itself.

In a consumer market a salesman with a product often gets more response than an activist with a cause and when it comes to sales, the pitch can be more important than the product. Selling ‘green’ effectively requires not only knowing all the cards you have in the deck, but knowing the right time to play the right card and still have one or two up your sleeve. We are not short on potential markets: companies, non-profits, homeowners, parents, children and of course the government, but none of them are looking for exactly the same thing. Each group can be linked to ways to accommodate their goals via more sustainable means. Failure to do so can lead to another danger: naysayers can be prone to believing that global-warming, environmentalism and sustainability are all synonyms, potentially souring them to valuable initiatives beyond cap-and-trade or greenhouse gas regulation.

sustainability paths diagram

The trick is that the case for environmental stewardship is not a one-card hand. One of the great things about sustainability is how many different ways that it addresses problems in America. Southern US cities suffering from drought would be attentive audiences for water efficiency. Businesses are eager to learn how using new materials or less packaging can reduce cost as it reduces waste or how greener buildings can increase productivity. Residents of Los Angeles and Phoenix should be avid listeners of air quality solutions. Northeasterners are more excited about high speed rail lines while other smaller cities may be more interested in streetcars. Most Americans are pro energy independence for our country. All of these things can be linked to sustainable goals and progress of our society as a whole. The more people become educated about specific options that directly affect their everyday life, the more opportunity they have to educate others.

The Product (RED) organization is a great example of commercializing a cause as a way to reach a capitalistic audience. “RED” companies like Apple, American Express and Starbucks link product lines sales to donations for combating AIDS in Africa. Although the organization does not release the amount of total donation funds to date, their success has been widely acclaimed. Critics of the program ask why do people have to pay more for a product instead of just donating? With all the advertising that our society fosters, Americans may just not be programmed that way. The marketing pitch helps a person feel like they get something for giving something. The LEED system is another example of taking the concept of building green and fitting it to Americans: making a recognizable and fashionable product.

We find ourselves at a key moment for two reasons: a time when environmental action is crucial and a time when we can decide how we want to emerge from this recession. Emerging with greater support in more arenas of the green lobby could be better than more resistance towards a concentrated call for stemming global warming.The thing we need to remember (and sooner or later conservative opposition will learn) is that in this game there is no giant pot in the middle that we are gambling for. Our goal is to make everyone better players. After all, when it comes to the environment if we are not all eventually on board we all end up as losers.